Where I Went For Five Months
What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversation.Glenn close
TW/CW: MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES; DEPRESSION; INSOMNIA; ISOLATION
It’s no secret I virtually disappeared off the face of the planet for four-plus months and I’ve been debating what I wanted to post to my blog about my absence. I finally decided because I have always believed the most powerful weapon we have against mental health issues is to be open and honest about them—to not treat them as our dirty little secrets. The insidious, overwhelming sludge of mental illness is harder to fight when you’re battling it alone, and maybe talking about it doesn’t make it go away but it lightens the load. So, here I go.
In March, when the pandemic first hit Australia, I didn’t expect it to affect me the way it did. I’d only been back from the UK for a month and I’d just met my current girlfriend—in fact, we had our first date on leap day, just a couple short weeks before social distancing was implemented nationwide. At first, I wasn’t even aware the situation was affecting me at all. I thought I was going about life as normal. I went to my classes and I edited a couple of pages of Silk Sheets each night, I went on dates with Mel, I called my parents, I went to work, I went for walks. It all seemed normal.
Then things started to slip away.
They closed my university campus and we had to transition to online learning. I don’t cope well with online learning. My work exploded in a flurry of panic buying despite government reassurance that even when we would go into lockdown, Bunnings would be one of the businesses remaining open as it was deemed an essential service as a tradesperson supplier.
In amongst those changes in my life, things started to slip away. I defaulted on things I said I was going to do, and I just stopped touching anything related to my writing. When my stress and anxiety peaks, when I suffer a depressive episode, it’s impossible for me to focus on anything that isn’t escapism. Unfortunately, writing isn’t escapism for me, I think too much about what I’m doing for it be escapist. Reading is, though. I read a lot. I played a lot of video games. But I neglected my uni work, and I neglected my writing, I neglected my social relationships—because those things take effort I couldn’t manage to expend. And the thing is, I didn’t even notice I was doing it. I didn’t realise I was stressed until my insomnia came back with a vengeance. I didn’t realise I was depressed until I started drinking as much as I was drinking at the end of my third year of uni when I was really depressed. And by the time those realisations hit me, we were in the middle of our first stage 3 lockdown and I’d fallen behind on everything in life.
I think there were quite a few factors that contributed to my spiral. The first two, I already mentioned, work and uni. Switching to online learning was difficult for me—still is, actually, I’m behind on my second semester classes because I don’t do well keeping up with online learning—and working exploding into insanity was not good for my mental health. I had to deal with customers being aggressive, rude, racist, and spouting nutjob conspiracy theories on top of them panic buying. We had several customers tell us they’d been tested because they’d been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID but were still out shopping when they should have been quarantining themselves and they WEREN’T WEARING MASKS!
It was not good for my mental health. We had very few customers who didn’t complain about our social distancing requirements and almost everyone required having the rules explained to them multiple times—I really don’t understand the level of stupidity in the world, at one point we had six, SIX, signs directing people where to exit and where to enter the store and I still had to tell almost every customer to exit down the ramp when I was on door duty.
On top of work and uni came the lockdown itself. I was a good girl, I stayed in the house when I wasn’t at work or at the supermarket or going for a walk to exercise. But I live with two housemates. Now, they’re good people, and I love our house. I love their cats. But I am an introvert. And I don’t just mean, oh I don’t like parties, and I like being alone. I mean I am a true, honest to goodness, introvert. Talking to other people exhausts me—even my own family. And even being in the same building as other people drains me extensively. Before all this happened, my housemates were out a lot. They both worked long days and had various social and business engagements various nights of the week. I could be guaranteed extended periods of time where the house would be empty except for me and the cats. I need that and suddenly it was taken away.
I honestly think that was the real issue. I was bereft of my alone time, the time I used to meditate and put myself together to deal with the world. I can’t do those things when there are other people in the house. It’s just the way I am. It’s the way I work, the way I’ve always worked. And losing that sent me into a deep, emotional vacuum where I merely existed for a few months.
I saw a light at the end of the tunnel when I made plans to go see my family but unfortunately I live in a city of idiots and Melbourne’s second wave hit right at the time I predicted it would when pressure from the federal government forced our Premiere to ease restrictions earlier than originally planned. Then the NSW/VIC border shut, I had to cancel my leave, and I had a breakdown.
I haven’t seen my mum and sister since they left me in Dubai airport for their flight to Sydney at the start of February. I haven’t seen my dad since he dropped Mum and I at Macarthur Square train station in January for our trip to the UK. And I haven’t seen my brother, sister-in-law and niece since Christmas Day.
I’m very lucky and I work with amazing people who comforted me and supported me through my little grieving process and we’ve all tried to be there for each other during this lockdown as much as we can but it’s still hard. It still fills me with overwhelming sadness when I remember I haven’t seen my family in over six months.
The stupidity and selfishness of so many people is disheartening and infuriating. I have to spend way too much time composing myself and compartmentalising my rage and despair so I can enter the world and interact with people at work. I’ve also only had one shift since our stage 4 lockdown began where I haven’t been sworn at and yelled at for doing my job (and I’ve worked almost every day since stage 4 began except for a week where I had a stomach bug).
It’s been suffocating to feel all this for so long. I know many people can relate to that. And I had a moment of clarity a few weeks ago where I decided I didn’t want to feel like I was drowning anymore. I threw myself back into my writing and made a few long-term plans. I decided to start bullet journaling and getting ready to put the kind of effort into my business I always intended to but struggled to find the motivation for.
That’s where I am now. Prepping for all the new things I’m planning and enjoying my newfound productivity. I’m not completely out the other side—my insomnia is still wreaking havoc on my life, I try to sleep early but I don’t end up falling asleep until 4 or 5 in the morning, which is affecting my appetite and my mood—but I’m doing my best to get on top of it and I’m hoping in the next few weeks I can do it.
It’s a constant struggle and it has been since my first bout of depression and first panic attack as a teenager. I like to think one day depressive episodes, insomnia, panic attacks, and eating disorders will be a distant memory and I’ll be as healthy and whole as I can be, but the reality is, I’ll probably always be walking a fine line balancing the darker, dangerous parts of myself with the stronger, lighter, and good parts I find in myself when I come out the other side of a battle like the last months. The only way I make sure I’m walking in the light more often is by talking about it and reaching out when I need help. I forgot to do that this time, I suffered alone, and quietly, but I’m talking about it now.
I’m talking about it now to say it’s alright. If you’re in the same place I’ve been, it’s alright. I understand. It’s hard. This world has changed, our lives have changed, everything has, and it’s alright to be thrown by that. It’s alright to not feel okay and to even feel terrible. It’s alright to be upset about not getting to go to that concert, or seeing your friends, or going to the gym. It’s alright. You’re allowed to mourn the things you’re missing.
It’s not alright to take those feeling out on anybody—and that includes yourself.
If you’re struggling, please reach out. Please say something. I’m always happy to listen, and I’m sure you’ve people around you who want to be there for you as well.
We’re going to get through this. It’s not going to last forever. Even if we have a new normal, with things different to how they used to be, we’ll still be able to live our lives again soon.
I’m happy to be back and I can’t wait to share my new projects with everyone when the time comes!
On that note, time for some shameless self-promotion!
Paper Flowers is available for preorder in paperback now. Release day is October 9.
Silk Sheets is having a cover reveal and release schedule reveal also on October 9. Sign up for my newsletter and get in touch if you’re interested in being a part of the cover reveal.
There are more exciting announcements coming with both of those that I can’t talk about just yet but if you’re interested in them, I’ll be announcing it early to my newsletter subscribers on October 1st so sign up for early access to really awesome things! Thank you all for your support and I can’t wait to share all my news with you! I have a good feeling about the direction I’m taking things!